When the history of the legendary recount of aught-eight is written, when all the votes are counted, challenged and counted again, when all the verbal shots are fired, when all the billable hours are charged, the pizza boxes recycled and the testosterone released, this day should live on in our state’s memory.
Because today, this Thursday, in this place, the Al Franken and Norm Coleman campaigns, usually at each other’s throats, agreed on something:
They are both leading the recount.
Franken is ahead, his campaign said today.
Coleman is ahead, his campaign said today.
Life is good. Minnesota is nice.
That’s what an observer learned at the daily press briefings at the campaign headquarters of each candidate as the second day of the recount rolled on and patches of votes blew through like so much tumbleweed, being constantly tallied and spun.
“We are feeling confident, or in Al’s words, ‘Cautiously optimistic,’ ” said Franken spokesman Andy Barr.
“We feel very good about how the first day of the recount went,” said Franken recount lawyer Marc Elias.
And then he went to report that in the campaign’s tallies — which are more complete than those posted at the secretary of state’s website Wednesday at 8 p.m. — Franken was picking up more votes in traditionally Republican precincts than the campaign had anticipated.
A few miles away down University Avenue, the Coleman campaign was smiling, too.
“I understand the Franken campaign regaled you with statistical analysis and spin, and I have to admit they’re quickly optimistic because we’re actually feeling pretty good today about where we’re at,” said Coleman lawyer Fritz Knaak. “We’re ahead, frankly, from where we expected to be at this point.”
He and Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan noted there are some lost Coleman ballots; that is, fewer total votes than in the original canvass and most seem to be Coleman votes. But they’re not freaking out — yet — about that.
Said Sheehan: “We’re feeling very good. We’re feeling confident … Things are going remarkably well.”
Campaign becomes a battle of briefings
By now, these daily news conferences — sort of like briefings in tents in Qatar after a desert war begins — mostly deal with minutiae dragged out of spokesmen and lawyers by local journalists in search of new things to ask, new charts to devise and new interactive gadgets to post.
But, 10 days after the campaigns were — theoretically — over, it remains very difficult to tie the vocal chords or email attacks of the communications staffs, both sides of which must have been trained by some old-time boxing promoters or a public relations firm in North Korea.
Today, the prize for superfluous jabbing goes to Franken’s communications warriors Andy Barr and Eric Schultz. (Hold your applause.)
In their “update,” besides providing the slices of recount data, they offered this bold headline:
COURT ORDER REPRESENTS FIFTH SETBACK FOR COLEMAN STRATEGY — CREDIBILITY TAKING A BLOW
Under that heading they asserted that Ramsey County District Judge Dale B. Lindman’s ruling that the names and addresses of rejected absentee voters was good for Franken … which it was.
But they added, it was “the latest setback for the Coleman strategy of deception and disenfranchisement.”
(In fact, Coleman wasn’t a party to that complaint, just the Franken campaign and Ramsey County.)
Barr, a youthful, bearded, charming-enough Harvard grad, who can be remarkably cute and snide at the same time, kicked off the briefing about the progress of the recount with, in part, this monologue:
“I would note . . . that it’s becoming increasingly clear that national Republicans are beginning to realize that, in fact, Senator Coleman has not been declared the winner of the race and, in fact, growing concerned about his chances of ultimately winning the race. Apparently, saying it over and over again doesn’t even convince his own party.”
Zing and counter-zing
Coleman’s staff tried, but, alas, failed to out-zing Mr. Barr. Still, they couldn’t resist themselves. In an otherwise straightforward and informative email to the media, they just had to — had to — poke at Franken’s campaign.
“We’ve called upon the Franken campaign to exercise much more restraint in respecting the privacy rights of Minnesotans than they have thus far in places like Beltrami County,” Coleman spokesman Mark Drake wrote.
This is a reference to events that occurred more than a week ago, which is ancient history in this post-election tussle.
Now, to their credit, it appears as if both sides are working well together during the recount process. Knaak said while he expected a flurry of questionable Franken challenges in the recount, he’s not seen that.
And, so far, it should be said, Franken aides haven’t been contacting rejected absentee voters. Not yet.
It could be that most of the recount will be completed faster than anyone ever imagined, even, perhaps, by Wednesday when both camps — legal and public relations — weigh in for the next face-to-face showdown, the return appearance of the State Canvassing Board.
That’s when, presumably, the panel of four state judges and Ritchie will decide if the hundreds of rejected absentee ballots statewide should be included in the recount.
There is a logic that says if they were never counted, they can’t be recounted.
But there is another point of view: if they were rejected unfairly, then those voters’ rights were violated.
Knaak, who is opposed to including those rejected ballots in the recount, reiterated today: “It’s hard, virtually impossible for me, to understand any kind of procedure that could be implemented by the Canvassing Board to account” for those ballots.
Alas, so far, Knaak has swung and missed on the legal playing field when going wing-tip to wing-tip with Franken lawyer David Lillehaug. Let’s see what the Canvass Board decides. This is an exercise in surprises.
No matter. Today is a glorious day. Let us rejoice and be glad. Victory is at hand … for Coleman and for Franken. No one can challenge that. Both sides agree. They’re ahead.
Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.